‘A PERMA-FARM MAY NOT HELP YOU PAY FOR A NEW SMART­PHONE, BUT IT WILL KEEP YOU ON YOUR TOES, CON­NECT­ING THE DOTS AND TRY­ING TO KEEP THE CY­CLE GO­ING IN THE BEST POS­SI­BLE WAY’

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - NATION -

We’re us­ing sheet mulching to mimic how the for­est elim­i­nates un­wanted plant ma­te­rial. We’re do­ing it to im­prove soil qual­ity. We’ve lay­ered the ground with veg­etable waste, ma­nure, leaves and straw and will leave it like this for a few months. LAURA CHRISTIE KHANNA, 29, who runs a per­ma­farm in Panch­gani with hus­band Ku­nal Khanna HOW IT WORKS

Vol­un­teers work on the farms for five hours, six days a week, in re­turn for food and lodg­ing, and the hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence. In­terns may earn an ad­di­tional stipend depend­ing on their skill sets and ex­per­tise.

From rainwater har­vest­ing and re­viv­ing lo­cal ponds to in­tro­duc­ing plant diver­sity, they’ve en­gi­neered change in these fields. “We’ve ex­plained the im­por­tance of di­vid­ing land into zones so that you can grow food for self-sus­te­nance and for com­mer­cial use,” says Singh, 37.

Some of the farm­ers now grow wheat, ragi and peas for them­selves, and mush­rooms for sale. Many have be­gun com­mer­cial bee­keep­ing, sell­ing the honey and ben­e­fit­ing from the nat­u­ral pol­li­na­tion.

“We are plan­ning to dig lit­tle ponds to harvest rainwater and sus­tain lo­cal fish, which is an ad­di­tional source of in­come,” adds Singh. This wa­ter, which is richer in nu­tri­ents, is used to ir­ri­gate the farm and im­prove soil fer­til­ity. Econ­o­mist Ku­nal Khanna, 32, and his wife Laura Christie Khanna, 29, moved from Aus­tralia to his fam­ily plot in Panch­gani in 2018, to live a farm life. Laura had done a PDC in Aus­tralia, and de­cided to con­vert their bar­ren 1-acre plot.

“The soil was hard la­t­erite clay over­grown with weeds. We re­moved them and sowed a cover crop of legumes to im­prove soil health,” she says. Then they left, on a one-month trip to Europe.

“We ac­tu­ally hoped to come home to a good harvest,” says Ku­nal, laugh­ing. “We had got an im­por­tant step wrong. When we re­turned we found 98% of the seeds hadn’t sprouted, and the weeds were back, and grow­ing more ag­gres­sively.”

The cou­ple de­cided to take it more se­ri­ously, and have started sheet mulching, which tries to mimic nat­u­ral for­est pro­cesses to elim­i­nate un­wanted plant ma­te­rial and im­prove soil qual­ity. “We have lay­ered the soil with veg­etable waste, ma­nure, leaves and straw and will leave it like this for a few months,” says Laura.

They plan to grow cu­cum­ber, zuc­chini, basil, tomato and wa­ter­melon, for con­sump­tion and sale.

They’re us­ing their own grey wa­ter (re­us­able waste wa­ter from baths, kitchen sinks, wash­ing ma­chines etc) for ir­ri­ga­tion, which means they’ve had to make a few big life­style changes to en­sure chem­i­cals don’t kill their crops.

“I use only nat­u­ral prod­ucts like shikakai in my hair, and yo­ghurt as a nat­u­ral con­di­tioner,” Laura says. “Be­san makes for an ex­cel­lent face wash and we use ash and lemon rind to clean our ves­sels.”

Their next big step will be build­ing a com­post toi­let that will turn exc­reta into com­post. “So far, vis­it­ing rel­a­tives have been in awe of how we’ve man­aged to change our en­tire life­style, but I don’t know if hav­ing to use a com­post toi­let will change their opin­ion,” she laughs. When Peter Fer­nan­des and Rosie Hard­ing, both 49, started grow­ing or­ganic veg­eta­bles about seven years ago in their 600sq-m kitchen gar­den in Goa, it was be­cause they wanted fresh, chem­i­cal-free pro­duce.

By 2014, they had heard about an on­line PDC by Ge­off Law­ton, an Aus­tralian stu­dent of Bill Mol­li­son, and were in­trigued.

“We signed up for the six-month course, which isn’t as in­tense as the 12-day ones,” says Fer­nan­des. The on­line course of­fers video clips, e-books and a 24x7 com­mu­nity of per­ma­cul­ture farm­ers and in­struc­tors.

“This gives you enough time to try things and come back with doubts and ques­tions, which was so help­ful,” he says.

Their home is now sur­rounded by poul­try, guinea fowl, an api­ary, and scores of ed­i­ble plants and trees, in­clud­ing mango, guava, orange, gourds, spinach, beans, herbs and chill­ies, none of which is sold.

“Not hav­ing any com­mer­cial com­mit­ments helps us ex­per­i­ment with chang­ing lay­outs,” Fer­nan­des says.

For money, they de­pend on their sav­ings. “A per­ma­cul­ture kitchen gar­den may not help you buy a new smart­phone or take an in­ter­na­tional va­ca­tion, but it will keep on your toes, ex­cited about con­nect­ing all the dots and try­ing to keep the cy­cle go­ing in the best pos­si­ble way.”

But one can’t dive in ex­pect­ing a so­lu­tion to your farm­ing prob­lems. “You don’t learn to farm when you do a PDC, you just learn to work, and even­tu­ally live, by a dif­fer­ent set of ethics and prin­ci­ples.”

Recog­nise lo­cal con­di­tions, learn about rain­fall pat­terns, visit other lo­cal gar­dens.

Fig­ure out ways to con­serve re­sources, par­tic­u­larly wa­ter; this in­cludes rainwater har­vest­ing, re­cy­cling grey wa­ter etc.

De­sign a sys­tem that pro­motes self-re­liance. Yield also cov­ers the ex­change of skills and in­for­ma­tion from one gar­dener to an­other.

PHOTO: SNEHA KOP­PULA

(Clock­wise from above) N Kop­pula’s 11.5-acre perma-farm in Te­lan­gana. ‘It’s not just a set of farm­ing tech­niques, but ideally a sys­tem that evolves with lit­tle hu­man in­ter­fer­ence, where flora and fauna co-ex­ist, and even ben­e­fit from each other,’ he says.A home is hand­sculpted by vol­un­teers on the Geeli Mitti farm in Naini­tal. As you min­imise your im­pact on the earth, per­ma­cul­ture in­vari­ably leads to changes in life­style.Har­vests tend to be small. This bunch of radish was the first on Laura Khanna’s 1-acre farm in Panch­gani.One of the 12 prin­ci­ples of per­ma­cul­ture in­volves spread­ing the word and work­ing with tra­di­tional farm­ers in the area.

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